Touch Kitchen Faucets: What You Should Know

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One of the biggest innovations in the world of kitchen fixtures has been the introduction of the touchless and touch kitchen faucet. These two new technologies allow people to turn their sinks on and off without turning a handle. While both touchless and touch kitchen faucet technologies can reduce the spread of germs and keep your faucet clean, they aren't right for every home.

Touch vs. Touchless Kitchen Faucets

When hearing the name, many people mistakenly believe that a touch kitchen faucet is the exact opposite of a touchless kitchen faucet. In fact, these two devices are more similar to each other than they are to a traditional kitchen faucet. That's because both can be turned on and off without the use of a handle. This is done through the use of a solenoid valve that opens and closes automatically when triggered by the faucet's sensor.

There are some big differences between a touch faucet and a touchless faucet, though. A touch kitchen faucet, also called a "touch-sensitive faucet," turns on when a user touches it. This touch can occur anywhere on the faucet, including the handle or spout, and it can be done with a hand, wrist, forearm, etc., which is convenient when your hands are dirty. The on/off features are activated through the same small electrical charge of the human body that makes a touch screen work.

A touchless faucet, also called a "sensor faucet" or "hands-free faucet," turns on when a motion sensor recognizes a hand or other object in front of it, and it turns off when the object is removed. While both a touch and touchless kitchen faucet can keep kitchen faucet handles clean and help prevent the spread of bacteria, the fully hands-free nature of a touchless faucet does so more effectively.

How a Touch Kitchen Faucet Works

Touch faucets rely on a technology called "captive sensing" that senses the small charge of the human body. This charge is called "capacitance," which is equal to around 100 to 200 picofarads. Touch faucets are programmed to detect capacitance changes within this range. They do this through sensors built into the handle and the spout.

These don't just sense electrical charges to the sensors themselves but any conductive material connected to the sensors, including the rest of the faucet (insulation at the base of the faucet prevents the sink from operating as a conductor). A quick touch will turn on the faucet when it is turned off. Another touch will turn it off when it is on, and many touch faucets will also turn off automatically after a set period of time.

Many people worry that cleaning a touch faucet, using a pull-down faucet accessory or even adjusting the water temperature with the handle will result in it turning on and off over and over, but only a quick touch will turn the faucet on or off. A long, steady touch will not trigger the solenoid valve.

Image Credit: Paul Anderson

How a Touchless Faucet Works

A touchless faucet also uses a sensor, but in this case, the sensor detects motion rather than the body's electrical current. The sensor does this with either an infrared light or ultrasonic sensor, usually placed at the front or side of the faucet body, though some styles hide the sensor on the back of the spout.

With an infrared light, the faucet will turn on when the infrared light bounces off your hand (or an object) and back into the detector, whereas an ultrasonic field sensor will turn on when it is triggered by your hand movement disrupting the sensor. In both versions, the water will stop flowing when the sensor returns to its default state.

Costs of Touch and Touchless Faucets

Both touch and touchless kitchen faucets cost more than traditional manual faucets. That being said, like any product, there is drastic variation in pricing with high-quality faucets with more features. For example, a name-brand, touchless, high-arc faucet with a pull-down sprayer and magnetic docking will cost more than a no-name, stripped-down touchless model with a low profile and no sprayer.

Kitchen Remodel Guides says that it's possible to find a standard single-hole kitchen faucet for as little as $30, but on average, you should expect to pay between $150 and $350 for such a design. Even a standard single-handle, pull-down kitchen faucet can go for as little as $40 but will be between $175 and $500 on average. On the other hand, an inexpensive touch or touchless kitchen faucet will cost at least $200, while an average model will cost anywhere from $400 to $700. In fact, some models can cost over $2,500.

Features to Consider

Different brands offer different features, but many manufacturers just call standard features by their own proprietary names. For example, Moen offers "Spot Resist" technology, which is just a spot-resistant finish. Meanwhile, you could buy a Delta faucet with "MagnaTite Docking," which simply means it is motion-activated and features a magnetic docking for the pull-down spray head. Kohler calls these same features "Response Technology" and "DockNetik."

Rather than getting caught up with company-specific buzzwords, it's important to focus instead on the features themselves when choosing a touch or touchless faucet. That being said, because low-quality touch and touchless faucets often experience problems, particularly with the all-important sensor, it's a good idea to always buy a faucet from a well-respected brand like Moen, Delta, Kohler, Danze, Grohe, Forious or Flow. Be sure to check the reviews to ensure the faucet is high quality since even quality brands sometimes have flawed products. For this reason, you should always buy a faucet with a long warranty, preferably one that lasts a lifetime.

Another factor to consider is how easily you can switch to manual controls. Both touch and touchless faucets require batteries. Some companies also offer AC power adapters if you prefer to plug in your faucet, though the sinks can stay powered for as long as two years on one set of batteries. If you lose power or have a problem with your sensor, though, you'll need to be able to switch to manual mode easily.

Similarly, always find a model that makes it easy to turn up the flow rate or change the water temperature. Some older and inexpensive touchless faucets can only adjust the flow rate or water temperature with the shutoff valves under the sink, which is anything but convenient, especially since it's better to clean with warm water and cook with cold water.

More modern models can be adjusted with either a traditional faucet handle or the control dial underneath the sink, but the newest motion-sensor faucets have a sensor on each side that controls the temperature, with a blue and red LED light to indicate the cold and hot water controls.

Installing an Electric Faucet

Touch and touchless kitchen faucets aren't known for their easy installation. While many people find the process daunting since it involves wiring, it's not dramatically more difficult to install a touchless or touch faucet than it is to install a standard faucet. You just have to take the extra steps of connecting the control dial that controls the solenoid valve and the battery box or AC adapter.

When installing these faucets, be sure the sensor is installed in the correct place and that the control box containing the solenoid valve is properly installed, as this is what lets water come out of the spout. Each model will have its own unique installation instructions, so always be sure to follow these precisely, installing everything in the proper order and making sure to fully flush the lines if instructed to do so. Do not tie or twist wires together unless the directions specifically ask you to do so.

Benefits of Touch and Touchless Faucets

The main advantage of these products is that when your hands are covered in dirt, bacteria, food or anything else, you can activate your sink without using your hands — either by using a forearm or other body part or by simply waving your hand in front of the sensor. This can reduce the spread of germs and keep your faucet clean (particularly the handle).

Touch and touchless faucets are available in a wide array of styles and colors and often have built-in sprayers. Touchless faucets can be made from the same materials as any other faucet. However, because they require conductivity, touch faucets can only be made from materials that conduct electricity. This means they are usually made from copper, brass, zinc or nickel.

If you like the look of stainless steel, you might be disappointed to find that this material is not available for touch faucets, but brushed nickel and polished chrome can look similar, and they are far more conductive since steel can have as little as 3 percent conductivity, according to Metal Supermarkets. Delta even sells a finish known as "arctic stainless," which looks like stainless steel but is made from bronze. If you prefer the modern look of matte black or glossy white, these are also available for touch faucets.

You can save a lot of water with a high-tech faucet since you can more easily turn off the sink so it doesn't run while you soap up your hands or scrub a dirty pot. These can also be great options for kids who are too young to be able to reach the kitchen sink handle. Touchless faucets are great for homes with toddlers who might not remember to turn off the water.

Drawbacks of High-Tech Faucets

The main drawbacks of these faucets include:

  • These units are more expensive.

  • It is slightly more difficult to install these devices.

  • Power outages and dead batteries can render the advanced features useless.

  • Some older and cheaper models make it difficult to change the temperature and water pressure.

Aside from these problems, it's also worth mentioning that some models develop issues with their sensors, meaning the water will not turn on or off when desired, which makes these effort-saving devices more of a challenge than an advantage. The best way to prevent this issue is by always buying a highly rated, name-brand item with a lengthy warranty.

Additionally, while touchless and touch faucets usually save water, they can also sometimes waste water, especially in homes with pets and young children. Touchless models can sometimes be a bad choice for homes with pets that can turn on the sensor without trying. Some animals even learn to turn on touchless faucets to get fresh, running water on demand.

Touch faucets can also waste water if they are turned on by a toddler or by an animal's nose and then not shut off again, which is why people with pets or young children should invest in a model with an auto-shutoff feature that turns off the water after a set period of time.

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Jill Harness is a blogger with experience covering architecture, design and decor trends from around the globe. As she lives in what would politely be called a "fixer upper," she is particularly interested in writing about DIY projects and repairs. Most of her home design writing can be found at www.homesandhues.com. You can find out more about Jill's experience and learn how to contact her through her website, www.jillharness.com.

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